Alan Goldberg: From Hot Walker to Hot Trainer

Alan Goldberg

Alan Goldberg (photo via monmouthpark.com)

Life has a way of putting you on the right path.

If things had worked out the way he had initially planned, thoroughbred trainer Alan Goldberg may have just been an enthusiast of the sport, rather than a conditioner with more than 1,100 training wins.

The Philadelphia-native attended Drexel University and would occasionally go to the races at Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, N.J. However, life has a way of creating its series of destinations and, upon graduation, where Goldberg attained a degree in business and appeared to be set with his first job, fate would say otherwise, as he didn’t possess the financial means at the time to move to California.

“A friend of mine and I made the decision to stop by Aqueduct and get a job walking horses,” said Goldberg.

Early Stages

Goldberg began working for Walter Kelley in 1972 and would stay with the trainer for nearly three years, learning about the business.

“He had a tremendous amount of influence,” said Goldberg. “He’s the guy that taught me everything. He liked being a teacher.”

Thoroughbred racing wasn’t a remote consideration as a career choice for Goldberg until he made the decision to go to New York. His passion for the sport continued to develop and evolve.

“It was one of those deals from day one, where I loved it,” said Goldberg. “I didn’t mind getting up early. I didn’t mind working, rubbing horses for him. We worked every day, fed every day. He said we start at 4:30 in the morning, got a couple hours off for lunch and went back.”

Goldberg also worked for Robert Lake, who trained for Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt at the time, which allowed him the opportunity to be around a number of nice horses. And a few years later, after his initial exposure with Kelley and Lake, Goldberg would go out on his own, winning his first race in 1974 at Keystone Park (now Parx Racing) with Algernon.  It was soon after that he partnered with an owner who would go onto carve out his own successful niche within the thoroughbred industry — Barry Weisbord.

“He was a pretty good talker and very bright,” said Goldberg. “He was very involved in bloodstock and pedigree. When we started out, we didn’t have a lot of horses to train.”

However, savvy investments, including seasons for three years in eventual leading stallion Halo, proved profitable. The depth in his barn began to increase gradually.

“We had a few horses to train and that kind of got us rolling,” said Goldberg.

Those early years provided Goldberg with invaluable experience, and would lead to additional opportunities, with new owners, one being Betty G. Marcus.

“Her [Marcus’] dad invented the Q-tip,” said Goldberg, who found himself with the opportunity to travel more as his career progressed. He was living in New Jersey at the time and his wife, who traveled daily into New York City, was providing the bulk of the support during those early years. “She [Marcus] had some money, bought some nice horses and wanted to be in Florida during the winter. She also wanted to have horses in New York, so I had to split.”

It was during this time, while his wife was working in New York City, that The Meadowlands opened its doors. He would spend his time at Monmouth during the summer, struggling to make ends meet.

A Taste of Stakes-Winning Success

However, the years of hard work and adversity would eventually pay off, and the mid-1980s saw Goldberg train a number of stakes winners, with the Mexican-bred mare Mazatleca providing Goldberg with a consistent performer, laying the foundation that it took more than a decade to build. The daughter of Ramahorn was bred by Ignacio Borquez Zazueta, and was owned by Marcus.

“Mazatleca was a nice filly, a big chestnut filly,” said Goldberg. “If she was running today, she would be running in the 6 ½-furlong, down-the-hill kind of races.”

A versatile performer, Mazatleca had the mindset and demeanor of a professional, said Goldberg.

“I remember it like yesterday, you could never get her blood up,” said Goldberg. “You could run her on the dirt. She’d run second or third, so I thought, ‘Let me try her on the turf.’ Bracciale rode her, and I thought she ran a tremendous race. She came from last, was flying, and just got beat.  I thought she ran a tremendous race. It was one of those 5/8ths races. I said, ‘Jimbo, what do you think?’ He said, ‘I don’t think she likes the turf.’ So, I watched the race. For a horse who doesn’t like the turf, she ran great.”

Mazatleca would go onto distinguish herself as a broodmare, producing multiple graded stakes winner and track record setter Mazel Trick. A winner of six stakes, Mazatleca gave Goldberg his first graded stakes winner when she captured the Red Bank Stakes (GIII) at Monmouth Park on June 21, 1986.

“She turned out to be a pretty good turf horse,” said Goldberg.

Other stakes winners would follow: Tops in Taps, Icy Stare and Tri for Size. But it would be two other fillies that would help prepare Goldberg for what was yet to come — five-time stakes winner Top Socialite and Just Class, a four-time stakes winner (all at different racetracks) with three graded stakes victories.

“Just Class won turf stakes and Top Socialite ran against some pretty good horses,” said Goldberg. “Top Socialite beat Duty Dance, who was a pretty good horse of Shug’s [McGaughey].”

The Making of a Champion

The previous wins, although significant and satisfying, would portend the future. The year 1989 is one that will always resonate with Goldberg. If there was any question as to whether he had made the right career decision; if the hours, days and years were worth the effort; if the sacrifices he and his family made along the way were in their best interests, the answer came in the shape of a once-in-a-lifetime horse. A bay daughter of Horatius would score eight stakes victories in 1989, giving Goldberg his first Grade One and Grade Two Stakes victories, the Test (GI) at Saratoga and the Genuine Risk (GII) and Prioress (GII) at Belmont Park.

Safely Kept was arguably the best sprinter of her generation and her 3-year-old campaign earned her an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top sprinter.

“What I did with her [Safely Kept], anyone could have done with her,” said Goldberg. “That’s how good she was. She was really that good of a horse. If I would have stayed out of her way, she would have never lost a race, other than the [1989] Breeders’ Cup [Sprint, where she placed second to eventual winner Dancing Spree].”

Bred in Maryland by Mr. and Mrs. David Hayden, and campaigned by Weisbord and later Weisbord and Jayeff B Stable, Safely Kept was a model of consistency that very few horses have approached as a 3-, 4- and 5-year-old.

At age four, in addition to her seven added-money wins, five were in graded stakes company — including her electrifying victory in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Belmont Park, the race that saw runner-up Dayjur jump his shadow in deep stretch, and her authoritative performance in the Grade II Genuine Risk Stakes at Belmont Park.

She had initially been owned by Dark Hollow Farm and conditioned by Carlos Garcia. Barry Weisbord acquired Safely Kept and raced her during her sophomore campaign, before Jayeff B Stable bought into the filly right before the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  She would win 13 of her next 17 starts, including five stakes wins during her 5-year-old campaign.

“Safely Kept got beat when we tried her two turns,” said Goldberg. “She got beat in the DeFrancis when she got left behind. And she got beat in New York, in a stake, when we tried to take her back off. Other than her loss to Dancing Spree, I don’t think she lost any other races. You could make excuses for those three races. She didn’t want to go two turns and be strangled.”

Safely Kept would go on to earn induction into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 2011. By Horatius, and out of the Winning Hit broodmare Safely Home, the dark bay filly would win 24 races in 31 lifetime starts, finishing second twice and third three times, while bankrolling an impressive $2,194,206.

“It was just great winning the Eclipse Award,” said Goldberg. “When she got beat by Dancing Spree, she just got beat at the shadow of the wire. She put away a bunch of horses in that race [1989 Breeders’ Cup Sprint]. She was breaking from the 13-hole. At the end of her 3-year-old year, I was like, ‘How can you beat her? Who’s going to beat her? How are you going to beat her?’ She was that good.”

A Bond of Mutual Respect

However, the relationship between horse and trainer was one that was beneficial to all those involved.

“The main thing about her was that she got me Mr. Santulli — and that’s the best relationship of all,” said Goldberg. “He’s just been unbelievable. He said to me back then, someday we may get a lot of horses. He’s fair. What he says is the way it is. He’s always been like that. He’s the best person you could ever work for. He’s great. You don’t see that in this business.”

A Wise Decision

In the mid-1990s he would enjoy success with a precocious son of Forty Niner. A stallion prospect in the making, Jayeff B Stables’ Jules would win the Grade III Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 11, 1996, during his juvenile campaign, quite a remarkable feat when one realizes, conformation-wise, he didn’t look the part of a graded stakes winner.

“Jules was a little different,” said Goldberg. “They bought him back at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale. He was very offset in the knee.”

The bay colt was sent to the Robert F. Scanlon Training Center in Williston, Fla. and had been entered in a 2-year-olds-in-training sale, but a trip to Florida by Goldberg proved to be a wise decision.

“He [Jules] was getting ready,” said Scanlon. “I watched him breeze. I said to Bobby, ‘What kind of horse is this? My God! He said, ‘He’s a pretty good horse.’ So, I took him out of the sale. As a matter of fact, the horse who he was working with, sold for about $300,000.”

The promise was there from the beginning and Goldberg recognized Jules’ precocity. Jules would capture the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park during his sophomore year.

“He had some shins or something and we got him started a little late,” said Goldberg.

Like many athletes, he had his limitations, but excelled when pointed toward races that suited his running style.

“Jules didn’t want to go that far,” said Goldberg. “We tried to make him a two-turn horse and he did win going two turns, but he was mainly a sprinter. He was a pretty fast horse. I thought he would be a good stallion.”

Florida-Bred Success

Florida-bred Pocho’s Dream Girl, a filly bred by Farnsworth Farm, would win four stakes at four different tracks in the Mid-Atlantic for Goldberg, capturing added-money contests at Monmouth, Delaware Park, Laurel and Pimlico.

“I went to Calder to watch her train,” said Goldberg. “She was a big pretty filly. We gave $100,000 for her. I liked her.”

The filly by Fortunate Prospect, out of the Gallant Romeo broodmare True to Romeo, would go onto earn more than $336,000.

“She was just a hard-trying filly,” said Goldberg. “We ended up selling her for $360,000. Brereton Jones bought her. She was a dud as a broodmare for a few years, and then all of a sudden she came up with two graded stakes winners (Mark Valeski and Albano).”

Barn Depth

Sazarac Jazz went postward 29 times, winning three stakes, and was another of the consistent runners for Goldberg during the late 1990s. She won the Our Mims Stakes during her sophomore campaign and the Open Fire Stakes and the Doylestown Handicap as a 4-year-old.

“She was a big good-looking filly, fast and good at going two turns,” said Goldberg.

Refractory and Endearing

A horse named after a New Jersey township, would go onto win multiple graded stakes, the Grade II Jamaica Handicap and the Kent Breeders’ Cup Stakes (GIII). Bred in Virginia by Joe Albritton’s Lazy Lane Farm, Navesink would run in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Mile, but wasn’t the most professional in his training habits.

“He’s still at the farm,” said Goldberg. “Navesink, his whole life, has been a little pain in the ass. He never would do anything right. He could breeze fast, and we knew he could run. You could tell he was a runner from day one. We breezed him on the turf on the farm.”

The son of Irish River (FR), who raced in the colors of Jayeff B Stables, once “flipped in the paddock, hurt his back, just being an idiot,” Goldberg said.

The chestnut gelding raced for seven years, retiring with earnings of more than $475,000.

“He came back and won some races, and then had a little suspensory issue,” said Goldberg. “He was hard on himself and hard on everybody. He’s turned out now with a horse called Ride Home. All he does is torment Ride Home. He’s just despicable. He’s happy and looks good.”

Derby Dreams

A son of Woodman bred by Calumet Farm had Goldberg thinking about the Classics. Runspastum, owned by Jayeff B Stables, would go postward 40 times, race six years and earn $562,725. A multiple stakes winner, Runspastum’s added money wins included the Frederico Tesio Stakes during his sophomore campaign and the Grade III Oceanport Handicap at Monmouth Park as a 4-year-old.

“He was a very nice horse, and I had [Kentucky] Derby dreams with him early on,” said Goldberg. “He was one that was always a little sickly. As a 2-year-old, the first three or four months, he had coughs and stuff that young horses usually have. He was antsy. He really tried. He was just a cut below being a really nice horse. We ran him in the right spots.”

More Success

The following years would yield optimal results with runners scoring in stakes’ company. Graded stakes winners like Social Queen and Awfully Smart, and additional depth in the barn from added-money winners Contrast, Gilded Gold and Schedule (GB) found the winner’s circle from Goldberg’s barn.

Talented Turf Specialist

However, it was a son of Smart Strike, out of the Dixieland Band mare Shag that would place the racing world on notice. Jayeff B Stable’s chestnut colt Strike a Deal, would win or place in 12 stakes, with wins in the Laurel Futurity, the Red Smith Handicap (GIIT) and Dixie Stakes (GIIT). Strike a Deal would retire with earnings of $1,071,675.

And much like Jules, Goldberg saw potential in Strike a Deal as a stallion prospect, but fate has a way of allowing life to make unforeseen adjustments.

“He was a real nice horse,” said Goldberg of the turf specialist. “I sold him to South America as a stallion. He was bred to 60 mares and got one in foal. The vet down there fell in love with him, cut him and made him her riding horse. He has a good home. It’s a shame. He was kind of a handsome horse.”

Alan-Goldberg-Stats

Lady Luck from the Emerald Isle

The following years would find multiple graded stakes winner Straight Story and added-money winner Check Point emerge from Goldberg’s barn, however, two Irish-bred fillies, both who would go onto win Grade I races and the Robert Masterson owned, Kentucky-bred bay daughter of Empire Maker, Grade II winner Nefertini, would follow suit in outstanding company.

However, it was the ill-fated elite turf mare Laughing as well as Tannery that brought the Grade I spotlight back to Goldberg’s barn.  Richard Santulli’s Laughing won the Taylor Made Matchmaker Stakes (GIII) at Monmouth in 2012, adding to her impressive resume with graded stakes scores during her 5-year-old campaign in 2013, the Grade One Diana Handicap at Saratoga, the Flower Bowl Handicap (GIT) at Belmont Park, Grade II Ketel One Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga and the Eatontown Handicap (GIIIT) at Monmouth Park. The 2013 Eclipse Award finalist for outstanding female turf performer would succumb to colic in January 2014.

Laughing was by Dansili, out of the Be My Chief broodmare Comic, and earned $1,178,855.

Tannery was the other Irish-bred that won at the highest level, capturing the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine (GI) in 2013. The daughter of Dylan Thomas, like Laughing, was campaigned by Santulli, and had won the Sheepshead Bay (GII) earlier in the year. The mare would go onto capture the Miss Liberty Stakes at Monmouth Park as a 5-year-old.

Graded Stakes Winning Dam Produces Graded Stakes Winning Son

Force the Pass winning the Belmont Derby.

Force the Pass winning the Belmont Derby.

A son of the 2004 Eclipse Award winning sprinter Speightstown, Richard Santulli’s homebred Force the Pass, who was out of the owner’s multiple graded stakes winner Social Queen, would allow his connections to return to the winner’s circle as a Grade I victor. Force The Pass won the 2015 Belmont Derby Invitational.

Force the Pass, 2016 Preakness participant and three-time stakes winner Awesome Speed, and stakes winners Take Cover and Name Changer are part of a deep barn Goldberg brings into 2017.

“I’m kind of excited about it,” said Goldberg.

Well-Traveled

A presence on the NYRA, Parx and Maryland Jockey Club circuits, Goldberg plans to run at a number of different tracks this year.

He has a quite a few horses being broken and trained at Roy Lerman’s Lambholm South in Reddick, Fla.

“It’s a beautiful farm,” said Goldberg. “Junior [Serna] is very conscientious. They take great care of the babies.”

And although Goldberg runs a number of horses in the winter at Gulfstream Park, he can most often be found at Santulli’s training facility in Colts Neck, N.J.

“It’s great because when I get done in the morning, I walk into the office and keep him informed,” said Goldberg. “We see each other every day. The training center is only ten minutes from Monmouth Park. Our farm is Stavola’s old farm. He built a beautiful place out of all this acreage. When Mr. Santulli purchased the farm, he put some money into it and fixed it up. The track has always been great. We have a mile dirt track, a 7 ½-furlong turf course, 18 paddocks and it’s full service. Everything is under one roof.”

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